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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Thursday, June 23, 2022

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Celebrating Success of Rugby, Portfolio Question Time, Provisional Outturn 2021-22, Medication Assisted Treatment Standards, Business Motion, Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Decision Time


Celebrating Success of Rugby

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

I ask those members of the public who are not remaining for the next item of business to leave the public gallery quickly and quietly.

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-04871, in the name of Douglas Lumsden, on celebrating the success of rugby in Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. I invite members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak button now.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the fantastic achievements of all of those involved in Scottish rugby in 2021-22; congratulates the women’s team for reaching the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand in 2022, and the men’s team for winning the Calcutta Cup and Cuttitta Cup; notes the rise in popularity of Clan rugby and the work that is currently ongoing to encourage the playing of rugby with minority ethnic communities throughout Scotland; welcomes the return of the Rugby Sevens tournaments in 2022; believes that this has brought economic benefit to towns and villages, and enjoyment to all; commends the work of School of Hard Knocks, which is a charity that works with vulnerable children and adults to build self-confidence and self-respect through playing rugby, and supports the work that is being done with young people, boys and girls, in schools and communities up and down the country, including in North East Scotland, through an army of volunteers, coaches and supporters, without whom, it believes, community sports would cease to exist.


Douglas Lumsden (North East Scotland) (Con)

I have never cleared a venue so quickly.

It gives me great pleasure to be able to bring this debate to the Parliament this afternoon to celebrate all that is Scottish rugby. I thank all the members who supported my motion and helped me to secure the debate.

As a Scottish rugby fan, I acknowledge that we have our fair share of highs and lows. Our national team brings us tears of happiness and—yes—frustration, but we live every minute of those matches with the players and we feel every up and every down. Losses do not affect our passion for the game and we always believe that this is the year that we can win that grand slam—I do anyway.

When it comes to rugby, we can set our political differences aside and admire the skill, commitment and passion of our national teams. I am sure that the minister will agree about that.

I was delighted to host a reception in Parliament recently to celebrate those successes. I thank all my colleagues, especially the Presiding Officer, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care and the Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport, who were able to make it along that night. I also thank Sharon and Roger Hill, the parents of our former colleague and friend David Hill, who were able to attend while we also remembered David on the night. It was great to have a reception like that after two years of lockdown; it felt like old times, but it was sad that David was not there to enjoy it with us. I also thank Scottish Rugby and the players and coaches from both the men’s and women’s teams who came along.

Scottish rugby has such a rich history, with many of the past greats, such as Doddie Weir—who I was thinking about during the members’ business debate on motor neurone disease this week—John Jeffrey and Finlay Calder coming swiftly to mind. We all have our favourite players and moments of the past. However, Scottish rugby also has such a bright future, and that is what I want to focus on today.

Scottish Rugby recently launched its new strategy for encouraging more women and girls to enter the sport and find a career in rugby. Post-pandemic, we have seen a rise in the number of women and girls taking part in rugby, which is fantastic to see. However, we are ambitious for the future. There are currently more than 6,000 woman and girl players in clubs throughout Scotland, but the aim of the strategy is to increase that substantially by 2025.

The strategy will grow participation and visibility of women’s rugby nationwide and is based on four Ps: participation, pathway, pipeline and performance.

Scottish Rugby has committed to more than doubling its spend on women’s rugby and will invest an additional £2.5 million next year. That is welcome news in developing rugby for all throughout Scotland. At the reception a couple of weeks ago, Jackie Dunbar raised the point that both of our daughters played football, but there was no option for them to play rugby. I hope that that situation will improve.

We all know how sport can enhance every aspect of our lives, including physical and mental health. I know that, as a Parliament, we would welcome initiatives that encourage more women and girls to pick up a ball and play sport at every level. Whether it is a casual game in the park or playground, getting involved in a club or playing for Scotland, participation at any level is key, and anything that we can do to encourage it has to be welcomed. It would be good to hear from the minister what the Scottish Government can do to help with the level of participation.

We also want to see more parity with the men’s game in terms of rugby as a career. At present, there are only five women on contracts in Scotland, but the aim is to grow that to 30 following the world cup this year, which of course our amazing women’s team have qualified for. I wish the team the very best in the competition in New Zealand. [Applause.]

Scotland has one of the top referees in the world—the groundbreaking Hollie Davidson, who takes charge of not just top women’s games but men’s test matches. Hollie will also be heading to the world cup.

I want to mention an exciting initiative in my area of North East Scotland that will build more participation and make rugby accessible to more people. In May, Scottish Rugby launched a new partnership with Aberdeenshire Council and the University of the Highlands and Islands to deliver increased rugby and physical activity for secondary school pupils and adults in further and higher education in the north of Scotland. Aberdeenshire Council education team will have added to it four rugby development officers and three community coaches, who will operate for local rugby clubs. They will deliver a 16-week rugby programme as part of the curriculum for pupils in secondary 1 to S4 across 17 schools.

That is the first time that a specially designed rugby programme will be delivered as an on-going part of the curriculum in the local authority. The initiative will provide enhanced opportunities for young people to focus on their health and wellbeing and to enjoy outdoor learning, working in partnership with local communities.

Will the member take an intervention on that point?

It is hoped that it will reach 10,000 pupils across Aberdeenshire.

I will take an intervention.

Brian Whittle

I thought for a moment that the member was going to deny me.

Does my esteemed colleague agree with me that rugby is showing the way and that, to be able to do it, you have to see it? There is the shop window of performance sport—our ladies who are going to New Zealand are showing us that—but there is also the pathway that the member has just referred to. It is important that both those elements are put together, and rugby should be commended for what it is doing in that regard.

Douglas Lumsden

I completely agree with Brian Whittle. Rugby really is showing the way.

As a boy, I was lucky that, at the local comprehensive school that I attended, rugby was part of the core curriculum but, sadly, that is not the case for many and is really quite unusual.

Scottish Rugby is also working on widening its engagement with Scotland’s ethnic and religious minority communities. It is looking to make rugby more diverse, and I hope that the Scottish Government will join it in making the game more representative of our country as a whole.

Given all that good work, I was pleased to see that the contract of Scottish Rugby’s chief executive officer, Mark Dodson, has been extended to 2025.

I must also mention the work of the School of Hard Knocks charity, which delivers life-changing programmes for children and adults across the United Kingdom. Using rugby as a medium, it works with adults to find and sustain employment and with schoolchildren who are at risk of exclusion to help them to re-engage with education. The charity is now in its 10th year and is doing great work in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Last but certainly not least, I want to mention the amazing work that is being done around clan rugby. A couple of months ago, I had the pleasure of attending the match between the Holyrood Parliament team and the Edinburgh Clan. What a fantastic game it was, with smiling faces, fun and inclusion—it was brilliant to see.? Clan rugby brings together able-bodied players and those with a physical or learning disability to compete in one unified game. Clan rugby demonstrates what a fully inclusive sport rugby can be, with people of all abilities playing together and having an incredible time.

It has been great to speak to the Parliament today in celebration of Scottish rugby, and I look forward to hearing the contributions of other members with their stories of how rugby has impacted them and their local areas. Rugby is growing in our nation, and we can all be incredibly proud of our teams, players, coaches and amateurs who love the game, love playing the game and just love getting involved. We must thank all the coaches, volunteers and parents up and down the country who give up their time for the love of the game. Scotland has rugby at its heart and, as a Parliament, it is our privilege to acknowledge that today.


Jackie Dunbar (Aberdeen Donside) (SNP)

As deputy convener of the cross-party group on rugby development in Scotland, I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. I congratulate the convener of the group, Douglas Lumsden, on securing it and on sponsoring the recent parliamentary reception, where we met Scotland’s manager, Gregor Townsend, and some of the fantastic players in Scotland’s women’s and men’s teams. The reception was a great event, which provided an invaluable opportunity to hear about the importance of rugby to Scotland—to our economy and our young folk, as well as to the health of Scotland.

There are few more stirring sights than that of the Scottish team striding out on to the turf in front of almost 70,000 spectators at Murrayfield ahead of an international game. With around 250 member clubs in every part of the country, there are ample opportunities to both watch and play the game. According to World Rugby, around 100,000 Scots regularly take part, which includes 25,000 women players—that point is worth emphasising. There is a type of rugby and a level of competition that is right for everyone, whether that is 15-a-side, casual touch or even walking rugby. I think that walking rugby would be mine, if I had to choose.

Rugby is a fantastic way to keep fit, improve mental wellbeing and develop transferable skills. On health and wellbeing, I read an interesting study from the University of Edinburgh that shows that playing rugby, at all ages, can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, cancer, stroke, heart disease and depression, as well as improving muscle function, bone health and balance. There really is no reason not to play rugby. The question is how we can support more folk into the sport and ensure that it is supported for our amateur and professional players of the future. In particular, I am interested in how we can support more women and quines into the sport.

I welcome the fact that driving up participation levels of women and quines will be an important part of a £100 million push that will double Scotland’s sport and active living budget by the end of the current session of Parliament. I note that preparations are also under way for a Scottish sport media summit that will aim to explore ways to increase visibility and coverage of women’s sport across all platforms.

That welcome additional investment, which will benefit the wider sporting system, will be delivered in partnership with sportscotland and it will help to rebuild capacity in the sector as we continue to recover from the pandemic. It will also, rightly, focus on breaking down barriers to participation and ensure that more folk, including women and girls, can enjoy active lives, while improving physical, mental and social health.

I ask the minister for a commitment that sportscotland will work with rugby clubs the length and breadth of the country to ensure that they are supported and promoted. I also ask her to give an update on the sport summit and how it will be taken forward.

My final point is that touch rugby is being used to support older folk and those with early-onset dementia and other health conditions to socialise. Touch rugby is a minimal contact sport that is played on a 50m by 70m playing field. It emphasises running or walking, passing, catching, and communication. It can be played by anyone, and the dynamics allow for all ages and abilities. It is a great opportunity for our older folk, and I encourage onybidy interested to take a look.

In closing, I again welcome this debate, I note the vital importance of rugby and I reiterate my asks of the minister.


Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

I was not intending to speak in this debate but, unfortunately, my colleague Jamie Halcro Johnston cannot be here. He is the prop for the Scottish Parliament rugby team and he is in a far better place to deliver a speech on rugby than I am.

I congratulate my colleague and fellow athlete Douglas Lumsden on bringing this debate to the chamber.

I want to speak about my home club, Stewartry rugby club, which is based at Greenlaw outside Castle Douglas and was founded in 1970. Two weeks ago, we celebrated our 50th anniversary. The celebration was delayed by two years because of Covid, but the dinner saw more than 450 supporters come together to enjoy the friendships, fellowship and camaraderie that has been built up over half a century. We should not forget that the Stewartry sevens will also celebrate its 50th anniversary in the coming month.

The club has a remarkable seven youth teams that feed into a first 15 men’s team, which plays in west division 1, and the women’s 15—the Stewartry Sirens—which plays in the national 1 division and has a fantastic track record, having won the nationally played competition on three occasions.

Over the years, Stewartry has had some of its players go on to perform at national level, with Stafford McDowall, who plays for the Glasgow Warriors, Alex Craig, who plays for Scotland, and Joe Ansbro, who was a multiple Scottish cap winner; and we cannot forget Alice King, who is captain of Watsonians, and Suzy McKerlie-Hex, who attained 13 caps for Scotland’s women during her career.

The club also supports the local community with a full-time development officer and a number of programmes for children and young people in the area. Not only does it nurture young rugby players for the future, it takes the mental health of everyone in the club very seriously, having sadly lost two young players through suicide during the past few years. The club has introduced some innovative ideas on how to help and support their young—and not so young—players and has worked with Glasgow Warriors on looking at how to best support the mental health of the team and the wider community. It was one of the initial groups that founded the Stewartry mental health forum, which shares experiences and good practice across a range of rural communities.

Rugby really does bring us together, and I am proud to say that I played my part in the Parliament rugby team along with other MSPs and staff, and I think that the minister, Maree Todd, and I might still be joint honorary presidents of the club. We follow the six nations team each year, playing our parliamentary colleagues from Westminster, the Welsh Parliament, the French Parliament and the Irish Parliament—I am actually wearing the Irish Parliament’s club tie today—and we have formed strong friendships across the parliamentary and political divide. That was seen when we sadly lost David Hill, who was a great friend to all of us, and a large number of Irish players and politicians came over to support David and his family. Indeed, David’s family recognises the support that Scottish and Irish rugby gave during the sad events that took place in Dublin.

Rugby bringing the political divide together was never better portrayed than when we were in Dublin a few years ago, in the British embassy, and the British ambassador recognised that that rugby reception was the first time that the embassy had hosted every single party from across the island of Ireland, so rugby really does bring us back together. We have already heard about the work that the School of Hard Knocks and clan rugby do, and the parliamentary team supports that work.

My playing days at an international level may have been brought to an end by a severe lack of ability, but my experiences and the friendships that I have built through rugby mean that I will never regret getting involved with it, and I know it is the same for my friends, colleagues and family. If they do not do so already, I encourage everyone to follow the national team and the Scottish Parliament team, because it is one of the best things that I have ever done.


Carol Mochan (South Scotland) (Lab)

I thank Douglas Lumsden for bringing another important sports debate to the chamber. I echo the comments of colleagues and, on behalf of Scottish Labour, I pay tribute to all of those involved in Scottish Rugby for their efforts and successes during the past year, particularly given the adverse impact that the pandemic had on team sport in Scotland. It is great to see that rugby in Scotland is looking as strong as ever.

I will begin my speech by focusing on the successes of the Scottish women’s rugby team, which qualified for the women’s rugby world cup that will take place in New Zealand later this year. That is a significant success for a multitude of reasons. First and foremost, it is the first time that the team has qualified for 12 years, which is a magnificent feat, and I know from this debate that the whole Parliament wishes the team well in its group stage fixtures against host nation New Zealand, Australia and Wales.

Qualification also has significance for the future of women’s rugby and women’s sport more generally. Like other sports, rugby has been a male-dominated scene for years, but by playing in the most prestigious of competitions and representing our nation, its elite female athletes will be role models to many young women and girls who might have an interest in sport. It is crucial that we show support through increasing public awareness and other means when the tournament arrives later in the year. Brian Whittle’s points about it being seen and visible in order to encourage people to take part were well made.

Given that we are marking success, I will mention another south of Scotland team, Ayrshire Bulls men’s rugby side, which had national success in the Scottish premiership in 2021 and before the pandemic. It is important to have strong voices for rugby in our own areas, and I am proud that we have that in Ayrshire. I am sure that it encourages local young people who aspire to be rugby players to take that on and be successful.

That said, as with other sports, we know that not everyone plays rugby in order to become a professional and play at the highest of levels; it can also be about enjoying outdoor activity with friends, learning new skills and keeping fit. It is therefore absolutely right that the motion highlights the value of the players, supporters, coaches and volunteers who, more widely, make community rugby and sport what it is. Without those coaches and volunteers, many weekly training sessions and matches across the country would not go ahead. It is therefore really important that we recognise them. I have a football referee in the team that I work with, and he said that I should also mention how tough the referee’s job is and say that we support referees as well.

Many contributing factors make community sport work to the benefit of our physical and mental health, and it is right that we pay tribute to everybody who gives their own time. That said, we must not lose sight of the fact that sport is inaccessible for many and that rugby, football and tennis clubs might be unaffordable for many. I hope that the minister will take that point on board. Jackie Dunbar’s point was also well made—it is important that sport is accessible and affordable for all.

It is right that we have today’s debate to recognise the progress and success of Scottish rugby at the highest level, but also to recognise the importance and influence of rugby at the grass-roots level. As the motion states, admirable organisations such as the School of Hard Knocks use sport to overcome some of the challenges that are faced by the most vulnerable in our communities. However, we need more from the Government and more intervention to focus our efforts on making sport affordable and accessible. I take the opportunity, once again, to pay tribute to the Scottish rugby teams and wish them well for 2022-23.


The Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport (Maree Todd)

I thank Douglas Lumsden for lodging the motion in Parliament and everyone across the chamber who contributed to the debate. As members will all know, I am a huge rugby fan and, indeed, a player on our Parliament team—player president, I think, Mr Carson.

I am absolutely delighted to close this members’ business debate on behalf of the Scottish Government. Members across the chamber will know that increasing the participation and visibility of girls and women in sport is a passion of mine and a priority for the Scottish Government. I am therefore thrilled to congratulate the women’s team on reaching the rugby world cup, which will take place in New Zealand later this year. It is an absolutely fantastic achievement, and I know that it is the culmination of a lot of hard work from all those involved in the team, not least the players themselves. I cannot wait to cheer them on, although the time difference will obviously be a challenge—I might just stay up all night. Scottish Rugby’s announcement that it is committing to a minimum of 30 contracted rugby players following the rugby world cup is very welcome. That will be transformative for those players, and it will, I hope, make the path easier for those following in their footsteps.

As many in the chamber highlighted, it was fantastic to see the launch last week of the four-year strategy for women’s and girls’ rugby, which is aimed at developing and growing the game at every level. We know that there are significant physical, mental and—I emphasise this—social benefits to physical activity. As minister, I want everyone to be able to benefit from sport and physical activity in the way that I have been able to.

Members have mentioned a couple of daughters who play rugby. I know that Fin Carson’s daughter has played rugby in the Parliament team, as has my daughter, who plays rugby far better than I do. If we want to get everybody playing and benefiting, we must, as Carol Mochan said, remove the barriers that still exist to being physically active. Increasing participation and creating a pathway for every level in the sport are key to achieving that.

Of course, the men’s international team has also had a successful year. It impressed in the six nations, with the highlight being that memorable victory over England in the first game. Also of note was the men’s performance in the autumn nations series matches, in which they posted victories over Tonga and Japan and retained the Hopetoun cup with victory over Australia.

The rugby sevens calendar is in full swing, and I have very fond memories of sociable summer tournaments that I attended in my younger playing days. I am sure that the men’s and women’s sevens teams will look forward to the competition at the Birmingham Commonwealth games. I am also hopeful that I will get to watch some of the action when I am there.

We have heard about lots of local domestic achievements from members around the chamber. Congratulations go to any individual or team that has had success at any level.

To answer Jackie Dunbar’s question about sportscotland, I inform her that its investments support a wide range of Scottish rugby activity that encourages and supports people to participate in the sport, including club and coach development. Since 2014-15, sportscotland has invested more than £5 million across 36 rugby projects through its sports facilities fund. With partner contributions, the total invested in rugby facility infrastructure is more than £24.5 million.

Sportscotland promotes rugby through the active schools programme, and there is also direct club investment, which supports club development over two to four years. Through that programme, sportscotland has invested more than £553,000 into 19 rugby clubs since 2013.

Jackie Dunbar asked about the media summit on women in sport. I am keen that that event should progress. We are in early planning stages at the moment. Many members have talked about the importance of the visibility of women in sport, and I am determined that that summit should bring a focus to that and improve the visibility of women in all aspects of sport.

I am delighted by the rise in popularity of clan rugby and the opportunity for people to play in the same team irrespective of their disability. I was really pleased to hear about the success of Edinburgh Rugby’s inclusive team, which competed earlier this month in the international mixed-ability world championships in Cork and finished a highly creditable 10th out of 28 teams. I was not playing on the day in question, but I know that our Parliament team loved playing clan rugby so much a couple of months ago that it hopes to make it an annual fixture.

As I noted, the key to creating a healthier nation is breaking down the barriers that exist to being more physically active and engaged in sport. Scottish Rugby’s work with the Council of Ethnic Minority Voluntary Sector Organisations Scotland—CEMVO Scotland—to welcome more people from Scottish minority ethnic communities to the game of rugby is, therefore, very welcome. I understand that those sessions incorporate contact, non-contact and walking rugby to allow people to enjoy the game in a way that they are comfortable and able to do.

Time and again, we see that sport really changes lives. The charity School of Hard Knocks demonstrates that through its use of rugby as a vehicle to tackle unemployment, crime and ill health. It works with people who would not usually have the opportunity to participate. Participants gain skills to become physically active and, therefore, boost their confidence and, ultimately, their employability. Our Parliament team and many of our women parliamentarians have played against women who have graduated from that programme. We thoroughly enjoyed it, and I am, as ever, desperately keen to encourage more of my colleagues to join in. I can promise a completely inspiring time.

I am glad that the motion refers to volunteers, because rugby, like all sports, could not operate without a dedicated army of volunteers. I place on record my sincere thanks to everyone who volunteers, which enables everyone else to enjoy the sport that they love.

Although it has been a successful year on the pitch, we have seen tragedy off it. I pay tribute to two particular players. Back in November, we tragically lost Scotland’s women’s international Siobhan Cattigan, at the age of only 26. That was a terrible loss of someone so young, who was playing at the top of her game. In March, the Scottish Parliament lost one of our own, with the sad passing of David Hill. He was highly regarded throughout the Parliament and was described as loving rugby more than politics. I am sure that everyone in the chamber and in the global rugby family joins me in passing our thoughts and condolences to the families of Siobhan and David.

I am delighted that rugby continues to provide opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds to participate in a form of the game that allows them to be physically active and to enjoy meeting people who share their love of the sport. At every level—from grass roots to elite—the increase in the number of people playing and watching rugby continues. As the minister responsible for sport, I will continue to offer my support to Scottish rugby, and I wish everyone, at all levels, good luck for the summer and next season.

That concludes the debate. I suspend the meeting until 1.30, which is only eight minutes away.

13:22 Meeting suspended.  

13:30 On resuming—